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Full text of "Mysteries Weird And Strange 001 (1953)"

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By John Martiv 




ftUTSIDE, Ken Ravenal could hear the 
music beginning. 
' New Orleans throbted like a plucked 
violjii" the subtle yet vibrant strains of the 
Mardi Gras running through its veins like 
an electric shock. 

Ravenal walked to the window of his 
father's old mansion, drew the curtains. 
Twilight had fallen; the moon was high and 
beyond the grounds the town twinkleti with 
the first flash of merriment. 
Thei. he frowned. 

Tonight was a night for happiness and re- 
velry; yet, tonight, he was chained to the 
ashes of a dead love. For he knew, now, that 
his love for Marcia Vernil was dead. It was 
not his fault that she had fallen ill and lay 
dying. Marcia had changed; no longer was 
she the sweet, vibrant image of loveliness 
\e had known. Her cheeks were drawn with 
wasting, her eyes feverish . . . 

The -phone rang, Ravenai's face crisped. 
He knew too well who it might be. Tht 
knowledge wasn't pleasant. . 



he began, picking up the re- 



"Hello?' 
ceiver. 

"Ken?" It was Marcia's father. "She's 
asking for you. Ken. You you'll come?" 

"I'll come." He put the receiver down, 
t)is face sullen. What did past vowa mean 
in the face of death? 

Smiling thinly. Ravenal went upstairs. 
Weeks ago he had ordered his Mardi Gras 
costume. U wa.s a gay, handsome Cavalier 
outfit, a costume for gallantry. And it had 
hung in his closet, waiting. 

Putting it on before a full-tength mirror, 
he smiled again, hia lips narrowing. After 
all, he decided, to part from Marcia was 
good sense. Not only was she mortally ill — 
and of no use to him, therefore — but he'd 
.heard rumors. Before she had been taken 
ill there had been faint whispers, whispers 
he'd paid no attention to. But now ... the 
whispers had grown louder. The Vernils. 
they paid, weren't all grace and tradition 
and grand old family. There had been darker 
things in their remote past, things done in 
bayous and in the »*>uttering depths of the 



great swamps to the acct>mpaniment of 
babbled witch-voices, of spells and strange 
chants. He didn't believe these things, still, . 

^INUTBS later, the barSuche he'd called 
by phone drew up in front of the hou.'^e. 
Stepping into it with arrogance, he gave 
Marcia's address in the Vieux Carre, the Old 
Quarter of New Orleans, and was whirled 
away. • 

The house was old; it had been in the 
hands of the Vernils for two hundred year.'*. 
When the barouche swept down the ancient 
winding lanes and stopped before it. Ravenal 
got out.-Around him, the Mardi Gras merri- 
ment crowded thickly. Sighing, he knocked at 
the door. Mr. Vernil opened it. Ravenal came 
in without a word, swaggering, wearing a 
light smile. 

The old man looked at him and trembled 
with rage. 

"That costume." he began, fuming. 
"Hardly a thing to put on at such a time. 
Ravenal! You seem to forget that Marcia's 
deathly ill — or . . ." His face contracted in 
suspicion. ". . . do you?" 

Ravenal shrugged. 

"I haid'V think Marcia would want me 
to miss the Mardi Gra.t, my dear Mr. Vernil, 
It would scarcely he sporting!" 
■"Ken! Ken!" 

Both men turned as the thin, wailing 
cry came from upstairs. The old mart's face 
softened. 

^'She — ahe'.s in pafn, Ravenal! She knows 
you're here. Surely — surely you'll .see her?" 

Ravenal drew back. 

"I — I can't," he began, hesitant. 

"You must!" Suddenly Vernil'-'^ hawk- 
like eyes were turned on him. "You owe her 
that, Ravenal." even if— if you're dressed as 
you are!" 

Ravenal still hesitated. Then he nodded. 
"Very well." he said, agreeing. 
They went up the stairs. 
Ravenal walked into the roQm, Jauntily. 
"Oh— Ken!" The dying girl on the bed 
gasped. Hwr eyes widened as she saw hia 



Sray costume. \ I'm dying, and — and 
you're ..." & y. irs welled in h^r eyes. 

Her father rouglily pulled Ravenal out 
into the corridor. 

"You swine!" he .«aid hoarsely. His eyes 
flamed. "You have broken her heart!" Then 
they narrowed into pinpoints of intense 
hatred.. "True, she is dying, Ravenal. But so 
shall you!" 

The grim, cold note in Vernil's voice 
shook Ravenal for a, moment; he shuddered. 
The bJood ran cold in his veins. Then he 
managed to laugh. . 

"All men die in their time," he said. "I 
am still a young man !" He stood there, listen- 
ing, and then the faint, gasping breath from 
the other room ceased. Without another 
word he turned, ran downstairs, his heart 
pounding. He had to get away from that 
house of death, into the streets, into life and 
color and merriment. 

One last glance and the house of death, 
of loneliness, was left behind. He dropped 
into a quaint old drinking house, fortified 
' himself with a bottle of wine, emerged again 
into the old, winding streets, ^ 

DA VENAL heaved a sigh of relief. The 
millstone of his obligations to Marcia 
had fallen from his neck with one bold 
stroke: he felt free as the wind. The wine 
■made everything glow. 

He wandered down one lane after 
another, the sounds of the Mardi Gras grow- 
ing fainter and farther away. Suddenly he 
bumped into a figure, booted, cloaked, a 
sword dangling from its belt, not wearing 
a mask. 

"Pardon," he said. 

"Bien, Monsieur!" the other said, with 
a courtly bow. "Bon soir!" 

Ravenal stood and watched the man fade 
out of .'light. Strange, he thought; his 
costume was cheap and patched and old, not 
like his at all. It was as though — as 
though ... 

It was then he saw the girl. She'Iingered 
in the doorway of a house coming off an 
old lane. She was dressed in velvet and 
silks and on her face was a fetching domino 
mask. Ravenal .smiled. She seemed to be 
watching him, waiting for him to speak. He 
approached, gazing appreciatively at her 
plump arms, shapely figure. 

She winked and, with a tinkle of laughter. 



A fsw steps bo-ond him aniJ she wtk 
lost in the mists. But he could hear her foot- 
steps pattering down the cobbleatonea and 
now and again an engaging, contralto laugh 
with just a touch of come-hither appeal to xt/ 
She fled on, down this lane and that, 
leading him on until he lost his way. The 
lights in the streets grew duller, but the 
■ further she led him, the hotter his blood 
grew and the faster his pulses beat 

Then he saw her going into a house. She 
cast one long, backward glance of invitation 
and vanished inside. He knocked boldly at 
the door which swung open suddenly. A 
heavily-masked figure appeared, sword \n 
hand. 

"Draw!" it commanded, thrusting him 
back. Its blade came flashing up as .Ravenal, 
struggling to get out his rented costume 
sword, fell back. With a screech of steel on 
steel, Ravenal's blade went flying. Then his 
arms flew up and out; he fell, transfixed, 
coughing up blood, his head swiinming, a 
cauldron of agony. It was madness, he knew. 
The Mardi Gras was a time for happiness, 
not blood. 

He heard a tinkle of laughter. Looking 
up, as he lay dying, he saw a window thrown 
open in the house; in the aperture sat the 
girl he had followed. Something about her 
made the whole house seem familiar and his 
wavering,, glance swung to the date on thi 
door. 1752, He had seen that date often, he ' 
rememhered. It had been carved over the: 
ancient house of the Vernils. But that house 
had been old, and this-^this house was new!; 

He knew what had happened now; knew 
how some evil, foul magfc of revenge had 
cast him back far into the past of New 
Orleans, there to die, marooned from his 
own time. That was the meaning of the date 
on the h6use, of its newness, of the dim-lit 
streets, of the man he had stumbled against 
in the lane, wearing patched, oW clothes of 
an ancient cut, not because of the Mardi 
Gras, but because he wore them every day! 

The girl , took off her domino. RavenaJ 
gasped. It was Marcia! 

"My father said ^vou would die, KSn.*" 
she whispered softly. "And you did; 'at the 
hand of the guardian of the House of 



From somewhere ■ a church-bell chimed 
mid nigh t—unmasking time. Through dim- 
ming eyes, Ravenal saw his grim, ariggd 
murderer take off its mask to reveal yet 
another—the bonv. grinning Mask M 
Death I 



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